FEB. 9, 2018 5 min read

Flipping clothes is the practice of buying items of clothing, normally used and often brand-named, at low prices from places like thrift stores and reselling them at a significant markup for profit. Its popularity has risen steadily with the continued dominance of and increasing reliance upon online marketplaces in modern shopping.

That popularity has, in turn, led to questions regarding the ethical implications of flipping clothes. Many raise concerns about the practice, contending that this practice keeps low-cost apparel out of the reach of low-income buyers who would have no other opportunities to afford or acquire such items. (This argument, it should be noted, extends to the many high-income Reedies who patronize thrift stores to buy their clothes.)

One Reed senior, who wishes to remain anonymous, currently spends “about 2–3 hours a week actively doing ‘flipping’ related things, including transportation, shopping, and listing/packing/shipping.” This doesn’t include “reading about clothing 1–2 hours a day, which [he’d be doing] whether [he] was flipping or not, but which certainly helps with knowing what to buy.” However, despite his commitment to flipping, he doesn’t do business with fellow Reedies, citing not seeing “anyone wearing the brands I buy” and his concerns over appearing to be “profiting off of our community” as his reasons. The transcript from an interview conducted with this anonymous senior is included below:

On what prompted him to start flipping clothes: “I started flipping electronics and video games in high school, but once I got to Reed I switched to clothes because it made storing inventory more practical. Before Reed it was very much a ‘side hustle,’ pulling in enough money and taking [up] enough of my time that it resembled a part-time job. Right now, with [my] thesis and everything, it’s occasional, and I focus on higher end/rarer pieces, not volume. I’m not sure how to explain why I like clothing so much, but I do. I like reading about brands, about designers, and learning what I can–part of this includes how much they’re selling for. I also enjoy flipping through racks of clothing in pursuit of something special, like at a thrift store. It wasn’t so much that I targeted clothing as ripe for flipping. It was more so an easy and fun thing to do that combined two of my hobbies and could make some money on the weekends. If I didn’t like going to stores and sample sales, or combing through online listings, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

On how he decides his inventory and price:“I almost exclusively do in-store buying; I make no attempt to snag limited edition pieces online before they sell out. I look for pieces that I’m somewhat familiar with—I don’t often delve into streetwear, for example—that are in good condition and worn lightly (no holes, stains, or blatant marks), brand name, what type of piece it is, and if there’s a market for it (for instance higher end traditional suiting, while it uses incredible fabrics and retails for extreme amounts of money, does not have much resale value). If I only recognize the brand name, I will do a quick search in [the] store of sale prices via eBay or Grailed, and see if I can find what it retailed for. I don’t have a formula for [pricing] what I end up buying, but for lower-priced items (<$15) I am usually looking to make at least triple what I put in. For higher-priced items, the line is harder to define. I mainly check to make sure I’m not wasting my time and putting up a ton of money only to make barely anything in return. I’d say I usually make around $30–$60 profit on each item. The outlier sales, which happen maybe once every 2 or so months, reach into the $200–$300 profit range.”

On where he buys the clothes he flips and where he decides to sell them: “I [go to] Goodwill, vintage stores, and do some online shopping from used marketplaces (Etsy, yahoo! japan, poshmark), as well as regional sample sales. I guess I price at market price? With Grailed, due to the strange way they’ve set up their marketplace, it can be tricky to know what exactly ‘market price’ is. You’ve got to price high to account for ‘drops’ as well as the culture of the website’s users, who tend to offer close to 60% of your asking [price]. With eBay you just start the bidding at $0.99, make sure it ends at a time when people are home from work, and let the bidders decide. To decide on the marketplace I tend to think of an item’s mass market appeal. A Nike Team USA jacket, for instance, will go on eBay, where people who aren’t ‘into’ clothing might find it and decide it’s something they want to own. Niche labels go onto Grailed, because the buyers know to look there.”

Our discussion concluded with the senior expounding on his thoughts on the ethics of flipping: “It’s certainly something I’d be a little concerned with if I was sourcing entirely through thrift stores and doing it as a full time job, and it’s something I’ve thought about in the past. I think one concern I have with that line of thinking is the presumption that the only people shopping at thrift stores are those with low-incomes, which is not the case (just look at what Reedies wear and where they like to shop). The other presumption is that everyone who shops for used clothing online has a high income, but again I don’t think that’s true. Another issue is that flippers do not take all the clothes; it isn’t as if someone can’t go into the Goodwill on Woodstock right now and walk out with a suit, rain jacket, and an outfit to work out in. The purpose of thrift stores is not to provide people with fancy designer labels for cheap, it’s to provide them with clothing for cheap, and I don’t think flipping really disrupts that mission.”